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Buying fresh food in bulk improves school lunches

In response to new federal school lunch guidelines and local districts’ hardships related to providing healthy options in a budget-friendly way, I’m here to tell you: It doesn’t have to be that way.

As executive chef at Charter School for Applied Technologies (the largest charter school in New York State, with 1,675 students) and a retired Naval submarine cook, it was an interesting challenge to meet the newest calorie-counting and veggie quota standards while still providing a variety of fun, good-tasting food choices for the K-12 students.

Having well-trained staffers in the kitchen, rather than the traditional “lunch lady” (who would simply scoop prepackaged meals onto school trays – still an immensely important role for food service departments) is the most significant factor in saving money and creating an enticing menu.

Why? It allows the organization to buy and prepare more efficiently when purchasing bulk foods. When the staff is trained to work together to prepare large quantities of fresh food, you can forgo the prepackaged meals that used to dominate school kitchens, while the difference in budget and quality of food is exponential.

I have also spent a lot of time researching the best vendors that provide bulk quantities of food, along with using restaurant depots for certain items. Using fresh, minimally processed meats allows the kitchen to create more variety menu choices that keep the youngsters, and even the staff who eat the cafeteria lunches, happy.

At first, the number of meals served daily decreased, but this year the numbers have matched what the school was previously serving prior to the newest federal changes – 1,250 breakfasts and 1,400 lunches. Students and parents are used to the healthier options, and have seemed to really grasp the new standards.

It can take some time and strategic planning, but it can be done!

Scott Nachreiner

Buffalo